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Yup, you knew it was coming. Or even if you didn’t, you’re probably not surprised to see it. Bedbugs, it seems, are no longer just the stuff of childhood rhymes. From Cincinnati to New York to Atlanta, the tiny critters are chomping their way across the U.S., and experts remain baffled as to what triggered the sudden infestation. They worry, however, that since bedbugs spread so easily, the number of sightings will continue to rise.

So what exactly is a bedbug? They are (and a warning to the squeamish: You may want to stop reading at this point) small, parasitic insects that just happen to prefer human blood as their main source of sustenance. Members of the family Cimicidae, they are commonly referred to as “bedbugs” because, quite simply, that’s where they like to hang out—in beds, mattresses, sheets, and all sorts of snug-as-a-bug nooks and crannies where they can take cover and wait for an unsuspecting meal.

As you may have heard, a typical bedbug is about the size of an apple seed. What you may not have heard, however, is that bedbugs are essentially harmless. As insects go, they’re pretty clean. They don’t transmit any nasty diseases. And most of the time you wouldn’t even know if you were bitten by one. Still, there’s a hidden health threat associated with bedbugs that may come as a surprise to a lot of folks: toxins.

Back in the 40s and 50s the standard response to a bedbug infestation was a nifty little thing called DDT. You know, the synthetic pesticide banned by the EPA for its not-so-pleasant effects on the environment and human health? The problem is, those highly toxic chemicals seem to be the only thing that works on the almighty bedbug (think Superman vs. kryptonite), and despite our best efforts to come up with an environmentally friendly (not to mention human-health friendly) way to send the bloodsucking bugs packing, the end result will almost always involve chemical treatment.

Still, there are preventative measures you can take to keep bedbugs at bay, like taking fewer trips overseas, always checking hotel room bedding and mattresses, and keeping your own home (especially the bedrooms) clean and free of clutter. If you suspect bedbugs are present—common signs are blood/fecal stains on bed linens and tiny brown exoskeletons left behind when bedbugs shed their skin—do a thorough cleaning. Wash and dry all clothes and bedding on high heat, check dresser drawers and other bedbug-friendly spaces, and be sure to vacuum every possible crevice. Then, call in the kryptonite.

And that brings us back to toxins. The government may have banned DDT, but thousands more chemicals moved in to take its place, and today there is just no escaping the reality that no matter where we live our bodies are exposed to countless toxins that can contribute to poor health and disease. The key is to take a proactive stance when it comes to fighting back—one that includes reducing our daily exposure by choosing natural over synthetic products whenever possible, eating organically grown meats and produce, and cleansing regularly with a natural herbal detox program. Small steps, yes, but they can have a big impact—not unlike our tiny friend the bedbug.

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It sounds like a plot summary from the latest sci-fi novel: Super strains of harmful bacteria impervious to even the strongest antibiotics. But recent evidence of an antibiotic-resistant gene originating in India has medical experts on high alert and was a topic of much discussion at a recent American Society for Microbiology conference in Boston.

Three people from the U.S. and two from Canada—all of whom had recently traveled to India—became severely sick as the result of the gene scientists are calling NDM-1, which seems to prefer latching on to bacteria that cause intestinal or urinary tract infections. India is well known for its overpopulation and widespread disease, and in each case the individual had either received emergency medical care while visiting or had gone there for medical treatment.  

In recent decades drug-resistant bacteria have become a growing concern, and many experts worry that America’s hygiene obsession and dependence on antibiotics will soon backfire, breeding more and more “superbugs” that don’t respond to normal antibiotic treatment. Essentially, antibiotic resistance happens when our bodies actually become resistant to the effects of a certain antibiotic (or antibiotics) over time because of misuse or overuse of those particular drugs. Widespread use of antibacterial soaps and cleansers also adds to the problem by actually increasing the resistance of certain harmful bacteria.

In addition to practicing good hygiene, experts recommend only taking antibiotics when absolutely necessary, always completing the prescribed dose, and never taking antibiotics prescribed for someone else. Taking a daily probiotic supplement is also recommended to help strengthen the body’s natural defense system, much of which is found in the gut.

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